The $100,000 Creating Coonalpyn project saw the Coorong District Council partner with Country Arts SA and the local community to change the face of this dwindling rural township. Large-scale public artworks, spearheaded by a now famous 30-metre high mural of local school children on the face of five silo cells, were installed over a 12-month period to reinvigorate local businesses and create a traffic-stopping feature on the State’s Dukes Highway. The town now boasts six striking public artworks, which have led to an influx of tourists, renewed business confidence and ongoing beautification works throughout the town.
Key Partners Involved:
- Coorong District Council
- Country Arts SA
- Artist Guido Van Helten
- Coonalpyn Primary School
- Local businesses: Coonalpyn BP, Silo Sights Café, Oliver’s Real Food, the Coonalpyn Hotel and more
- Coonalpyn community members
- Sew n Sews needlecraft group
- Coonalpyn Art Group
- Careship Coorong
- Women in Agriculture and Business Group
- Viterra Group
Coonalpyn is a small country town with a district population of 815 (2011) and a town population around 200, located 165km southeast of Adelaide along the busy Dukes Highway.
With the advent of the millennium drought and the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, many businesses in small rural towns like Coonalpyn closed their doors. Smaller farming enterprises were sold and absorbed into larger land holdings with farm workers and families leaving the district to seek employment opportunities elsewhere.
The main street precinct along the Duke’s Highway, once a hive of activity, steadily declined to a few remaining businesses. Whilst some vacant shops had been bought and occupied as private residences, others remained empty and deteriorating. Despite the hard times, the 200 remaining town residents were passionate about preserving and promoting the town and there remained a strong community spirit among the town and rural residents who were committed to maintaining and enhancing existing services, businesses and attractions.
Creating Coonalpyn was developed as an artistic solution to rural decline by a group of civic minded residents and Coorong District Council. It is a model of regional renewal; a suite of artist led community arts projects with public art outcomes designed to activate spaces and reinvigorate the small rural community of Coonalpyn.
A variety of artist led projects were designed to provide:
- A means of activating and beautifying the main street
- A sense of community connection and civic pride
- Skills development for community in a variety of arts practices
- A point of interest and information for visitors.
In 2015 the Coonalpyn community, deeply concerned about the town’s decline, requested support from Coorong District Council to develop a strategy to beautify the main street precinct whilst maintaining and promoting existing facilities. At the same time, Council conducted an extensive Arts and Cultural Audit of the Council region which identified arts and cultural groups and practices, professional and emerging artists, available facilities and community aspirations. The results from Coonalpyn confirmed their desire to beautify the main street, engaging the community in the process. Furthermore, the audit revealed the current activities, interests and skills present in the community along with a diversity of community organisations.
The Coonalpyn Arts Group was formed in January 2016 to develop a series of arts projects which would involve and connect local residents and businesses and beautify the town. They were the management and advisory body for the duration of the projects and with support and funding from Coorong District Council, developed a series of six arts projects. Supplementary funding was sourced from Country Arts SA (Regional Arts Fund) with significant sponsorship from local businesses and community members.
The Creating Coonalpyn projects were:
Tunnel Re-vision- Original artist Barbary O’Brien returned to lead Art Group artists and Coonalpyn Primary School students in a restoration and reimagining of the existing Tunnel Vision murals.
Eyes on the Road- Artist duo Hyde & Seek created the pixelated image of a wedge-tailed eagle and oversaw the image conversion into 3200 metal tabs which were carefully measured, cut and folded by the Tintinara Community Men’s Shed.
The Mosaic Project-A mosaic mural has been painstakingly created as a feature at the public toilet site; a popular rest stop for travellers.
Growing Coonalpyn-Seasonal changes and challenges, recovery and renewal are the themes for this environmental and horticultural installation that has breathed life into a once-derelict site.
Coonalpyn on Show-20 appliqued flags depicting local produce and activities were designed and sewn by members of needlecraft group, the Sew n Sews and the Coonalpyn Primary School with artist Anne Miles.
Silos Mural- This flagship project secured a future for the town.
Artist Guido Van Helten undertook extensive community consultation with over 120 residents. The young children featured on the Viterra silos mural by artist Guido van Helten are students from the local Primary School and represent hope for the future. The project took six weeks to complete and has become a major tourist attraction for the town.
Most work on the ground was carried out by community volunteers, business owners and Council staff. Further, the arts project and subsequent arts programs have inspired the following outcomes:
- Training of an administration employee in the use of filming and online technology for ongoing Council business activities
- An RV Festival at Coonalpyn
- Improvements to its caravan park and RV facilities (for expected tourism increase)
- Art workshops in schools
- Mentorship programs for local artists
- Business confidence throughout the district (including a new café opening opposite the silo project in Coonalpyn)
- New arts opportunities through developing partnerships, e.g. theatre, dance, artist residencies.
The Creating Coonalpyn short term benefits include the engagement and cross engagement of different sectors of the community. The projects were extremely diverse, offering something for everyone; different interests, ages, entry points of engagement, skills level, time frames and art forms with all projects utilising existing resources and activating underutilised spaces.
The long-term benefits of this renewal program are enormous. Whilst the projects individually offer skills development and social connectedness with a public art outcome, the greater benefit has been gained from an aggregation of projects which create both a gallery of public works, a greater community capacity and sense of civic pride.
This in turn creates a momentum for change within the community.
Coonalpyn’s location on the Duke’s Highway (the major route from Melbourne to Adelaide) has a daily traffic volume of 2400-4600 vehicles and is a designated driver reviver stop. Creating Coonalpyn has provided travellers with a reason to stop rest and revive; have something to drink and eat before they resume their journey. The impact of the silos mural alone has transformed Coonalpyn with a massive increase in visitation and trade. Some businesses record a doubling of trade with custom tripling in peak times such as long weekends and school holidays.
The investment of art dollars into the Creating Coonalpyn suite of projects has not only provided long term dividends for the Coonalpyn businesses and community but indeed provides a model for rural recovery through the arts for other communities. In fact another 7 communities in South Australia have initiated conversations with Viterra with the intent of installing public artworks on their silos as an activation strategy for their rural townships.
“This stunning silo art in Coonalpyn is a fantastic example of how public art can be a huge asset for local communities,” South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.